Detail oriented

While cleaning up a pile of paperwork (yay executive function! yay me!) I came across a time sheet from my previous job.

The close-up reads as follows (because I know you’ll want to know):

11:59 planning
12:00 smoke break/lunch
12:31 put phone call through
12:34 create new email address
12:37 put phone call through
12:38 figure out problem with content management system of client
12:42 create CWP [planning app] for client
12:47 add new image to website for client
13:00 figure out problem with CAV [car app] for client
13:13 put phone call through
13:18 put appointments in calendar
13:23 smoke break
13:29 discuss CAV [car app] with coworker
13:38 put phone call through
13:40 create Google Analytics for client
14:01 help coworker
14:04 help coworker

The reason the entries are struck through is because at the end of the day I added up the time spent on particular tasks, in order to enter them into the administrative system. Because that was counted in 15 minute increments. And as you can see from the detailed view, I logged everything minute by minute.

What do you mean, detail oriented? My employer wanted to know how much time I spent on separate tasks and on different clients. So I showed them. Every employer would love to have someone like me.

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Hang on, I’m different

This article is part of the T-21 Blog Hop. Although the name is reflective of Down syndrome, this hop is open to all blogs in the disability and special needs communities. Self-advocates, allies, parent advocates, all are welcome. Posts should be about advocacy or activism.

Join Down Wit Dat on the 21st of Every Month!Click here to enter your link and view all the participating blogs.

In my entire road towards an autism diagnosis, it seemed a bit strange that I’d only talked to autistic bloggers, through blog posts and comments and email. On top of that, the majority of those bloggers came from the US, the UK, and Australia. Aspie Story and Blogging Astrid were the only fellow Dutchies I’d found so far. I still hadn’t met a single autistic adult in person.

So when my psychiatrist offered me the chance to participate in a series of group sessions for autistic adults to learn more about autism, I thought that would be a pretty good idea. Even though the session subjects seemed to cover a lot of ground that I was already familiar with, I was looking forward to meeting other Dutch people on the spectrum.

The group consisted of me and three other women. I won’t go into details to respect their privacy, but what really stood out for me was the reaction when I told the group about my own experiences in coming to terms with autism, about wanting to be autistic because it was the only thing that felt like all my experiences finally made some sense. About redirecting my energy and efforts towards things that would help me cope, instead of things that would make me appear normal. Allowing myself to be more visibly autistic.

At those last words, the entire group gasped in shock.

I’m not joking. I was the only one there who thought it wasn’t actually all that bad to be stimming in public.

Throughout the session, that impression was reinforced over and over. People were asking “If I don’t do things like that, then maybe I’m not actually autistic?” Looking for things that would prove they weren’t doomed for the rest of their lives. Looking for hope that maybe some day they could be fixed and be normal. Only seeing the negatives. I felt like I was the only one emphasising the good bits, the strengths, the FUN aspect of autism, the connection with other autistic adults, the recognition and acceptance that comes from finally belonging somewhere.

It was heartbreaking. It was exhausting.

So naturally, I decided to attend another networking group for autistic adults in the evening.

Yeah. That bit where I talked about learning how to redirect my energy and efforts to cope? I was lying. I’m used to a lifetime of pushing myself to do things. To push through the exhaustion. So of course it made sense to go to the evening gathering as well. Because autistic people, right? I can be myself there, right?

Wrong.

There was a pub quiz. People told me, like they always do at pub quizzes, “How do you know all that stuff?”, with the that-is-SO-not-normal look in their eyes that I recognise so well. I had my Tangle with me and people asked why I was constantly fiddling with it. People made remarks about how nice it was that this evening was just for high-functioning people and then looked at me and noticed me rocking. Unapologetically. Smiling. And I could see them judge me. Rocking is for Rain Man types.

In a gathering of autistic people who all tried to outdo each other in how high functioning they were, I talked about going non-verbal, and how emotions often feel overwhelming, and how hard it is to take good care of myself by eating on time and keeping my house clean. I made them laugh and nod in recognition. I talked about the energy and frustration it costs to pass for non-autistic, and why. I talked about not passing even when I try so hard. I talked about all the things that I read on all the blogs I’d been reading since the start of my diagnosis.

And in the middle of a discussion about high functioning and low functioning labels, and how maybe we should look at what a person is actually capable of, one of them said to me that maybe I needed a time-out to calm down, because I was rocking back and forth so much. And when I said I was just focusing on the conversation, and not feeling anxious at all, he didn’t believe me.

I still can’t truly come to terms with the fact that this happened. It happened. In a group of autistic people. It was just so entirely different from the autistic community I had experienced so far. The online blogging community. The community I’d taken to be… well, NORMAL. With their acceptance. The explanations that made so much sense. The empathy.

What I’d taken to be normal for being among our own.

In reality, the blogging community – that I accidentally stumbled upon when researching ways to get diagnosed as an adult  – was completely different from the real life community that I’d hoped to find. And it made me realise. My ENTIRE perception of autism as something that is intrinsically part of me, with the good and the bad, the meltdowns and the laughter, has been shaped by autistic adults who write from a place of acceptance.

What a difference that makes.

Acceptance has made me different.

Making mud pies

Well, not really. But in Dutch, we call these biscuits “zandkoekjes”, which literally translates to sand biscuits. Probably because of the crumbly texture. So it’s not that big a leap to mud pies. Really, it’s not. Sand. Mud. Biscuits. Pies. Really.

They’re incredibly easy to make, so this time I’m going to do things slightly different and add a video!

Ingredients

Makes about 16 biscuits

  • 100 grams of self-raising flour
  • 75 grams of cold unsalted butter
  • 50 grams of granulated sugar
  • pinch of salt

Math wizards will realise that you can easily adapt the amounts, as long as you keep to a 4:3:2 ratio.

Preparation

Wash your hands with cold water so they’re clean and COLD. Put all the ingredients into a bowl. Cut the butter into cubes. With a knife, not a fork. Ahem. Then “pinch” the butter with your fingertips to mix it with the sugar and flour. Keep on pinching until it starts clumping together. Take small lumps of dough and place them on a baking sheet. Flatten them with your hand. They don’t need to look perfect.

Place the sheet into a preheated oven at 170 degrees Celsius.

After two minutes they look like this.

Sand biscuits 2 minutes

After four minutes they look like this.

Sand biscuits 4 minutes

After seven minutes they look like this.

Sand biscuits 7 minutes

After nine minutes, they’re done.

Sand biscuits 9 minutes

Might be a bit shorter or longer depending on your oven, so keep an eye on how brown they are. You want slightly brown edges but not much more. Refer to the picture if you’re unsure.

They will come out still a bit soft, so let them cool down on the sheet for about 2 (if you’re hungry) to 15 (if you can wait that long) minutes. Enjoy!

Why I’m so awesome at the work I do

Does that sound arrogant? Maybe. I live in a culture where being honest about your accomplishments is seen as bragging. And bragging is a deadly sin in the country that admires their royal family for “being so ordinary”.

Thanks to my love for everything English, I have been able to adopt a middle way: being slightly eccentric while also pretending that this is just a harmless, funny thing and not my “normal” behaviour; being honest and direct while using sentence constructions that are similar to English ones with all their woulds and mights; and pretending it’s not a big deal while being completely upfront about my strengths.

  1. I’m an awesome writer
    Yeah, I know. You’re reading this blog so you probably think “Why mention that?”. But it’s worth mentioning. I have done copy writing for websites, rewriting long-winded marketing copy to fit short attention spans on the internet, highlighting strong points and paying attention to search engine stuff. (Which is one of the reasons I never use a link like here). In nearly every job I’ve had, I ended up writing manuals for stuff that people kept asking me about. Because I have a knack for describing things in clear, uncluttered language. I have also taught coworkers how to write better emails, paying attention to what question they’re replying to, acknowledging the other person’s initial issue and only then moving on to describing the solution. (And also making sure that the solution sounds like hard work so we can charge more). Not just telling them “it’s fixed, kthxbai“. And let’s not forget CHECK YOUR SPELLING AND GRAMMAR. I can spot a typo from a mile off. And I firmly believe that if you have a lot of spelling mistakes in an email to a customer, you’re signalling to them that you think they’re not worth the extra time to do a careful check of your writing before hitting “Send”.
  2. I’m good with customers
    You wouldn’t expect that from someone with persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, would you? But I am really good with customers. In both email and phone contact, I mirror their words in several ways, so they feel heard and understood (and also to make sure that I’ve actually understood them). I use clear and non-ambiguous language and don’t make promises I can’t keep. And I also follow through on the promises that I can keep. I’m not as good in face-to-face contact, but if I’m in a meeting as the technical expert, I can concentrate on just adding in the specifics and details, which gives me a way to avoid all the body language and emotional attachment. And the lack of emotional attachment is also why I’m one of the best people to deal with angry customers. I’m calm and professional. I know it’s not about me. The customer just wants to get taken seriously. Doesn’t everyone get angry when they think people aren’t listening? I’ve only had someone hang up on me ONCE, and he dropped by the office the next day to bring cake.

    © Poznyakov – Dreamstime.com

  3. I know something about everything
    No, seriously. I might not be the person who knows the most about a single subject, I might not be a CSS guru or a PHP wizard or a kick-ass sysadmin, but I know about all those things. Show me something I haven’t worked with yet, and I’ll get the hang of its general function and purpose within a week. And then I’ll write a manual about it. And be able to explain it to customers. And create realistic expectations of how much work it will be to implement something. Because I get the technical stuff. I often call myself a translator between customers and programmers, because I have the knowledge but not the baggage. I can think outside the box. And then explain the box to others. But my strength is not just knowing a lot of stuff, I also go in there and get my hands dirty. Image not loading? I’ll have a quick look and fix it. No probs.
  4. I fix things
    I’m a typical first responder. Sometimes my fixes won’t be pretty, but they will be fast and efficient. Because I have incredible focus and pattern recognition. I can see where things are going wrong, I can find those bugs, and then I don’t spend ages trying to figure out why the bug is there in the first place, but I simply think up a solution. (And put a comment in the code explaining the ugliness, because I’m professional like that). I see the nail. Sometimes my quick fixes are only a temporary solution, in which case I write up a short description of the problem and what I’ve done so far, and then send it on to a programmer. This saves the customer from having to explain the problem twice, and it saves the programmer from having to spend time looking for the problem, and listening to non-technical stuff.
  5. I’m detail oriented
    Yeah, people often think of details in relation to “getting bogged down in details”. But it is a strength, and an awesome one at that. It means I don’t overlook a step, no matter how small it is. I don’t fix something and then forget to send an email about it. I remember exactly how much time I spent on the phone so I can do my hours registration or invoicing. I write amazing manuals (there they are again, but seriously, it’s a skill) because I don’t skip a SINGLE step. I describe each click and command. (Which is not something most people do. Like that one time a coworker kept telling me to set up a VPN connection, and I kept going to the Windows Configuration screen and click “Set up a VPN connection” – sounds logical right? – but what he forgot to tell me was that I was supposed to do that by right-clicking a tray icon. Took us HALF AN HOUR before we’d solved that little communication problem. He wasn’t very detail oriented).
  6. I really really enjoy my work
    Dedicated is the word I’d use. Because obsession sounds so… autistic. But in fact, my obsessiveness is my main autistic trait. When I’m working, I’m in the zone. I’m utterly focused. I love writing the perfect email, making a customer happy by simply listening to them on the phone, implementing the perfect fix, making that light bulb go off in other people’s heads. I love beautiful bits of coding and well-structured databases. I love not being afraid of command lines and root privileges (although I did accidentally kill an entire web server once by executing a CHMOD command in the wrong directory. But that’s another strength: I always take responsibility for my mistakes).

    And most of all, I love being a nerd girl in a nerd world.

> sudo make me a sandwich – xkcd.com

Stimmy songs

So there’s two things. First of all, I was at this autistic people networking event tonight which is all kinds of awesome but also kind of overloading. So after about two hours I went outside for a bit and stimmed my heart out to these songs. And I’m sharing because I just think they’re brilliant and who knows, someone else might like them too.



And yeah I mean I stimmed my heart out with all the elbow flapping and shoulder twitching and head nodding that implies. Fuck whatever anyone thought about it. IT FELT SO GOOD.

And that brings me to the second thing. Work in progress, but Ben and Nattily have helped me put a first version of The Stimming Checklist online. You can find it at http://what-is-stimming.org. We will be adding new features soon but for now you can at least see an overview of the ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED THIRTEEN stims that have been submitted so far. Stay tuned!

Some things cannot be unseen

So.

Erm.

There’s this engineering company in the Netherlands.

And one of my coworkers once remarked that their logo.

If you look at it upside down.

Looks a bit like a pooping dog.

BAM-hoofdkantoor-logo

So I cycled past one of their construction sites today and there was this sign.

And I said “POOPING DOG!” Quite loudly. And it made me giggle.

And then I had to really focus to not keep on saying “poopingdogpoopingdogpoopingdog” all the way home.

Yeah.

I know.

Being weird is fun. 😛

Job interview advice – Situation

This article was first published with permission on Invisible Autistic.

In my previous post, I discussed personal hygiene and what to do with accessories, like shoes and jewellery. Things that may seem superficial but have the ability to get you rejected for a job before you even open your mouth.

This week we’re going to enter the danger zone: what to do when you arrive at the interview.

Strong currents sign

Arriving on time

“On time” is a terrible phrase when you have a literal mind. If your interview starts at 10:00am, then being “on time” does not mean walking in the door at 10:00am sharp. When planning your journey to the place where you’re having your interview, make sure to be there at least 15 to 20 minutes early. That’s excluding any extra time you may need to navigate traffic, deal with public transport, or making sure you’re not getting lost (tip: I always print out a map with street names of the surrounding area. Having a look around on Google Streetview beforehand is also a good way to familiarise yourself with the area).

The 15 to 20 minutes early is meant as your own private prep time. I’ll explain what you can use that prep time for in a bit.

Arriving too early

If you arrive much earlier than 15 minutes, walk around the neighbourhood for a bit, make note of any interesting features of the area so you’ll have something to use in smalltalk if needed. If the weather isn’t suitable for walking around, you can also go up to the receptionist or office manager (if they have someone like that) and say the following: “I’m sorry, I have an appointment with Ms. Jones and Mr. Smith at 10:00am, but I seem to have arrived a bit too early. Can you please let them know that I’ve arrived, but that I don’t mind waiting somewhere until the start time of the interview?” You can even say that you have brought something to read in the meantime, or things like that. It shows that you are self-sufficient but also take other people’s priorities into account.

Arriving too late

If you’re late: DON’T PANIC! If you’re not at the location 15 minutes before the start of the interview, call the company. This is really important (and also why those 15 minutes are so important to focus on). Tell them that you’re running late and that you’re really sorry. DON’T GIVE REASONS, except when they ask you why. To neurotypical people, reasons sound like excuses, even when you only want to explain. Just say “I’m so sorry, but I’m running late and probably won’t arrive until 10:15am. I know you have other responsibilities as well, so do you want to reschedule the interview to another date?” If you can’t give an estimate (because you’re thoroughly lost, again something you don’t want to say because it will make you seem helpless), simply say that you’re running late and don’t know what time you will arrive, so it’s probably better to reschedule.

Where’s the receptionist?

One of the things I really hate is when I arrive at a company and there’s no clear indication of who to approach. (Actually, I really hated that in my previous job as well, where we didn’t have a receptionist so the managers stationed my desk near the door. Just because I’m the only woman in the company doesn’t mean I want to drop my tasks as HEAD OF MY DEPARTMENT to welcome guests and sign for packages, thanks. Sorry for the digression). If there’s no receptionist or office manager in sight, walk up to the first person you see or knock on the nearest office door, and ask, “I’m sorry, I’m looking for your office manager.” Even if they don’t have one, this question will get you to someone who can guide you and help you settle in. Don’t ask for the person you’re having the interview with. You don’t want to meet them until you’re ready! Still, in very small companies, chances are everyone knows that someone’s coming for an interview, so they might end up getting the person who’s going to interview you. The rule here is to not assume anything, but ASK the next person you see what their name and their job is.

Prep time

Now, if all has went well, you’ve got 15 to 20 minutes to kill until the start of your interview. Use this time to go to the bathroom, make sure your bladder is empty, your palms aren’t too sweaty (use anti-perspirant to make them less so), and your clothing isn’t torn or stained. You can also use this time to swap your shoes in the bathroom if you’re not wearing dress shoes.

But the most valuable use of personal prep time is to make yourself feel confident.

Sound too good to be true? OK, here’s some official research showing that adopting a “power pose” before your interview will make you feel less anxious and more in control. Literally. Your intentional poses can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain (start watching at 10:20 for some examples of power poses). You can do this in the bathroom, or you can adopt some discrete power poses while sitting and waiting. Doing these will also prevent you from slouching too much, something that a receptionist or office manager will mention to others as you appearing uninterested before the interview.

Small talk

The thing so many of us dread. Because a lot of people find it hard, not just autistic people, you can find a lot of resources and information on how to do small talk, like this article on WikiHow or this article with tips from Bernardo Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute (YES REALLY), but I want to highlight some examples of acceptable small talk in an interview situation. Be prepared to do small talk with the interviewer from the moment you shake hands until a few minutes after you’ve sat down!

Good conversation topics are:

  • the weather (corny but effective, especially if you relate it to your journey getting to the location, which can lead to you asking what kind of weather is the interviewer’s favourite and do they choose their holidays based on the weather)
  • the city the company is located in (do some research on things that make this city interesting if you’re not familiar with it, or mention how long you’ve lived there, which can lead to you asking where the interviewer lives and why they like living there)
  • some features of the exact area or building the company or office is located in (even if it’s an industrial park, say something about the amount of greenery, or the architecture of the building, or ask if there’s any good places to eat, which can lead to you asking what types of food the interviewer likes)
  • the interviewer’s career – this is a good one since it’s far easier to segue into the actual interview from here, and people love talking about themselves! Ask them how they ended up in their current position, what college they attended, what they love about their work. Do some research by seeing if they have a LinkedIn profile or other online presence. Google is your friend. But don’t mention that you already know the things they’re telling you because you looked it up! Let them do most of the talking.

In my next guest post, I will focus on the actual interview and what to say and do to make a good impression.

People giving high marks